During a February 9 panel discussion at the annual winter convention of the New England Newspaper & Press Association in Boston, State Police Lt J Paul Vance told about 100 journalists, editors and publishers attending a panel on school shootings that the only official and accurate statements regarding the tragic events of 12/14 and the continuing investigation will come from him.
Just nine days later, Lt Vance was criticizing several news organizations that either printed or broadcast reports incorporating specific details about the investigation and suggesting possible motives for the mass shooting, without attributing their information. In most cases, those reports instead cite either law enforcement sources or others close to the investigation.
In response to the flurry of un-attributed news reports this past week, Lt Vance and the Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection February 19 issued a statement confirming the criminal investigation is active and ongoing, and that detectives working the case have no specific target date as to the completion of this investigation.
According to the State Police advisory, “detectives will leave no stone unturned; every piece of evidence will be examined. In addition, detectives are locating and interviewing all witnesses in this case.”
At the same time, the state police advisory references electronic and print media reports citing specific information originating from “sources” who are not identified and remain unnamed.
“The unfortunate origin of unsubstantiated details of this case are both hurtful and, many times, inaccurate,” according to the statement. “During the course of any investigation, as a case progresses, the State Police do not release details of that case. This strict rule is in place in order to prevent misinterpretation of evidence or case information by those who are not involved in the investigation.”
The release goes on to say that “any details can be taken out of context and misinterpreted by non-law enforcement individuals,” and that “Troopers do not release specific details on evidence that is seized during any criminal case.”
In a follow-up call to Lt Vance, the state police spokesman said that he and legitimate investigators from various agencies tied to the case are “having a hard time,” dealing with fallout from speculations promoted in some of the latest news reports.
“It’s very troubling,” Lt Vance said. “These sources are not coming forward to substantiate and authenticate the information (being reported).”
He said CBS never contacted his office regarding a weekend report citing two sources suggesting that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza may have been trying to rival Norwegian Anders Breivik who killed 77 people in a pair of attacks in Oslo and at a neighboring summer youth camp in July 2011. Hearst Connecticut Newspapers also cite two sources theorizing the same motivation.
Another un-named source reportedly told Hearst reporters that Nancy Lanza had the means to secure firearms she kept in her Newtown home, but did not restrict access to those weapons. Lt Vance told The Bee there was a locking gun cabinet in the Lanza residence, but he has no knowledge about whether the shooter had unfettered access to it.
A Hartford Courant feature that was published last weekend detailed much of the information that was included in a half-hour PBS broadcast Tuesday evening examining the relationship between Nancy and Adam Lanza. But Lt Vance said he received no calls to verify additional information in that Courant report as well.
“The Courant and CBS never called to determine if there was any truth to it, and some of it is just wrong,” Lt Vance said. “It’s aggravating and irresponsible for anyone to provide public information they get from those affiliated or associated with the case. Taking information out of context can also be misleading.”
He said in a case involving so many victims, the State Police, the lead agency on the 12/14 investigation, takes extreme measures to not make the survivors’ and family members’ “tragedy and terror even more painful.”
“We want families to know (specific facts from the investigation) first, if they want to know, before they start seeing it in the news,” Lt Vance said, adding that such reports often fuel the “insane and hideous” allegations that the events of 12/14 are part of a conspiracy or cover-up.
“I saw those 20 babies,” he said referring to the child victims, “there’s no cover-up here.”
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe said that victims’ family members attended a “sanitized” briefing a few weeks ago, and that while his department is tied to the investigation, there are a lot of facts being developed by state and federal investigators that he is not immediately informed about.
Chief Kehoe said that it was determined in the hours following the shooting that official information would be provided to the media by a single source, Lt Vance.
“While multiple agencies and other officials are receiving briefings, we are holding to that,” Chief Kehoe said, adding that it is important to his department and the State Police to release information to the families involved first.
But he also admitted that inside information on police activities are leaked to the press “all the time.”
“I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish the investigators could finish their work and release their reports accordingly and at the appropriate time,” Chief Kehoe said.
Responding to queries about the theory of a connection to the Norwegian mass murders, Chief Kehoe replied, “If you get a tip, can you jump to motive? Isn’t that premature?”
“We’ll get a better understanding of what happened if we can just be patient and wait for investigators to finish their work,” he said.
Lt Vance affirmed that until the investigation is complete and the final report is released, he will remain the only accurate source for media information.
“And the families deserve to hear it first.” he added.
This report was updated March 4 to correct references to PBS and CBS.